Improving Health Through Medical Physics

Outreach is the Antidote: Med Phyz Wiz Kidz 2018

Julianne Pollard-Larkin, PhD | Houston, TX

AAPM Newsletter — Volume 43 No. 6 — November | December 2018

Just like the rest of the world, I have been riveted by nonstop news stories, but one thing always makes me feel better—outreach. Focusing on someone else and helping them with whatever skillset you have is one of the best types of therapy any of us can try.

Med Phyz Wiz Kidz is the embodiment of an idea I came up with two years ago to impact students in the local area at AAPM Annual Meetings. After speaking to the Women's Professional Subcommittee and getting the green light to plan the event for the 2017 AAPM Annual Meeting in Denver, and with the wonderful help of Jaime Hoza from AAPM Headquarters, Med Phyz Wiz Kidz was born! I seriously can't say enough about Ms. Hoza who purchases all of the supplies for the event, helps design our city-specific logo, coordinates our room reservations in the Partners in Solutions room, and arranges our free goodie bags for each participant. I am proud to say we just had our second successful event at the 2018 AAPM Annual Meeting in Nashville, and we had an amazing turnout with 40 registered participants between the ages of 12–17, some of whom were AAPM members' children.

Our event opened with a welcome from Dr. Kristy Brock which was followed by a presentation from our President-Elect, Dr. Cynthia McCollough. Dr. McCollough gave the students a thrilling overview of how she discovered that medical physics would be the perfect field for her and what steps she took academically to get to her current leadership role. Then I gave a Med Phys Slam-style presentation about the MR-Linac. For the mostly medical physics-naïve audience, such a fast, "high-energy" (forgive the pun) educational talk really helped get them geared up before we unleashed them on to their guided exhibit hall tours.

The tours are typically the highlight of our events and were led primarily by graduate student volunteers and members of the Students and Trainees, Women's Professional, and Diversity and Inclusion Subcommittees. It's easy for current members to be a bit jaded about the exhibit hall, but for people who have never seen a linac or even a water tank or treatment planning before, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Also, it gives the vendors we interact with a chance to give a no-pressure fun explanation of just how fabulous their products are.

After the tours wrapped up, participants competed in the world-famous spaghetti tower competition. This was a new activity and now a new favorite! In this activity, participants were arranged in tables of eight and given 20 spaghetti noodles, some Scotch tape, and a marshmallow. The goal was to build the tallest structure possible in 20 minutes using just those items and place the marshmallow at the top. Even the parents of the kids got to participate and had just as much fun as their children. This game involved teaching some basic structural engineering, balancing, teamwork, and communication.

Finally, each table was given a poster to use for a brief presentation to the group to teach the whole room what they learned over the course of the three hours of activities. Hearing the children recount all that they had learned and what they enjoyed about the event helped to show how worthwhile it was. Also, several of the children were aware of our field's connection to cancer treatment and mentioned feeling better about having a firmer understanding of what radiation therapy involved. Some even said they would consider our field after their time with us at Med Phyz Wiz Kidz. The cutest response I got from one child was that she finally understood what her dad did all day since he was a medical physicist and AAPM member.

This event helps to not only impact the local students in the environment we choose for each Annual Meeting, but it also gives a convenient opportunity for our members to mentor a community they otherwise would not be exposed to. It's the perfect outreach opportunity for physicists who lack connections to academic schools in their typical daily routines. The goal is to continue helping reach out to local students with a focus on girls and underrepresented students for every upcoming AAPM Annual Meeting. In times like these with two recently named women Nobel laureates in Physics and Chemistry (Drs. Donna Strickland and Frances Arnold, respectively), we are excited to do what we can to inspire the next generation!

Participants in the 2018 Med Phyz Wiz Kidz program took on the spaghetti tower challenge!
Participants in the 2018 Med Phyz Wiz Kidz program take a tour through the vendor hall and listen to fun explanations from vendors of their products.
Dr. Cynthia McCollough, president-elect of the AAPM, speaks to participants of the 2018 Med Phyz Wiz Kidz program in Nashville, TN.

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Comments (1)

Dr. McCollough

11-10-2018 14:20 PM

Thank you Julianne for organizing this - it was a great event! Your enthusiasm and energy are a big reason why this program is so successful. Thanks for all you do!